War With the Newts by Karel Capek
(Trans. by M. & R. Weatherall)
Giant Newts are found in the south seas. It's observed they're intelligent, capable of speech and using tools. How to exploit the Newts for human gain is soon discovered. Said "discoveries" spread across the planet and a period of unprecedented prosperity for humans ensues, "The Age of Newts." Various societies to improve the lot of the Newts spring up, schools for Newts are opened. Newts multiply and multiply, eventually finding themselves requiring more habitat to support their growing population. Newt habitat are the shallow coastal shorelines of the world and Newts begin a campaign to increase those. It doesn't end well for humanity.
Capek is a social satirist in the same vein as George Orwell, Jonathan Swift and (yes) Jody Scott, but very much a pessimist. The only ray of hope, of redemption in Newts is the postulated possibility that the Newts too will eventually destroy their civilization, for reasons similar to the cause of humanity's downfall, namely "human nature."
In the concluding chapter, The Author Talks with Himself, Capek summarizes the internal dilemma of his own pessimistic prescience, and makes the moral case for social satirists:
"Don't ask me what I want. Do you think that through my will human continents are falling to bits, do you think that I wanted this to happen? It is simply the logic of events; as if I could intervene. I did what I could; I warned them in time... They all had a thousand absolutely sound economic and political reasons why it's impossible. I'm not a politician or an economist; I can't change their opinions, can I? What is one to do? The earth will probably sink and drown; but at least it will be the result of generally acknowledged political and economic ideas, at least it will be accomplished with the help of the science, industry and public opinion, with the
application of all human ingenuity! No cosmic catastrophy, nothing but state, official, economic, and other causes. Nothing can be done to prevent it."
Written in 1936 War with the Newts may seem a tad slow in places for readers of today, weaned as we are on multiple, simultaneous, attention span-eroding streams of constant external input, but the reader willing to enter into the pace of Capek's novel will be rewarded with a story that is funny, sometimes horrifying, often thought-provoking, richly satisfying and still very much relevant, Recommended!
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Hung around house writing short stories, all bad. Mom knew a salesman (a pig but she didn’t know that) at Kemper Insurance. Got a job there. Had no idea what to expect. There were eight floors to Kemper Insurance with a dumbwaiter running up through them and on each floor, crouched around the dumbwaiter and waiting for mail, was one boy and one girl. The girl was supposed to sort incoming mail, the boy to deliver it in a handcart but we switched around and had a fabulously FUN time sending shoes up and down the d’waiter and like that..
But on the day the job started: I walked in (in my HS clothes, plaid skirt, sweater, bobby sox, saddle shoes) and here was this handsome & fabulous creature, gorgeously dressed like a boy model of 18 years old, even the gold watch would knock your eyes out. This was Don, far too sophisticated to play the baby games the rest of us played, and we got to be good friends, long phone talks mostly about politics and my favorite subject “How can suicidal humanity be helped out of the pit it wallows in?”; in another couple of years we’d be running around with a Chicago Ultra Sophisticated Crowd, going to the ballet and like that—um, let’s see, one of them was Edward Gorey, and snobbish Joan Mitchell who stayed home and painted. And so on. Anyway, 1940 morphed into 1941 and September came and Dad died. I remember that night, the midnight phone call, the horror, the silence. (Frank would love it.)
Mom went insane. I have no other word for it. She played “Gloomy Sunday” night and day. It was awful. I had no skills to handle this at the time—then it was January, 1942, Don and I were hatching a scheme: we wanted to hitchhike on Route 66 all the way from Chi to L.A.! Wow! What an adventure, so we got ready to take off and Mom said, “You can’t do it unless you get married.”
Married? What the f—k for? But her mantra was, “What will the neighbors say?” This was all-important in my mother’s mind and she couldn’t be talked out of it so I figured, what the hay, if it makes her happy. So we went downtown to the Justice of the Peace’s office and paid $2 to “get married,” and Mom and the neighbors lived happily ever after, until they died. And later I got “divorced” and married fabulous but crazy O.T. Wood which is a whole other story which I can’t tell yet because it may hurt the innocent. (Suggestion to the past: forget about “married,” it’s nothing but Police State Suppression. Up the Revolution! Whatever that means.)
Next: to L.A. on Route 66 with hardly any money, ending in getting arrested in Texas. (Which is also another story. Stay tuned!)
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